What Is Moral Psychology?

All the the authors whose works I have consulted, with a few exceptions, write as if there must be a distinct motive for every action, and that this must be associated with some pleasure or displeasure. But man seems often to act impulsively, that is from instinct or long habit, without any consciousness or pleasure, in the same manner as does probably a bee or ant, when it blindly follows its instincts. Under circumstances of extreme peril, as during a fire, when a man endeavours to save a fellow-creature without a moment's hesitation, he can hardly feel pleasure; and still less has he time to reflect on the dissatisfaction which he might subsequently experience if he did not make the attempt. Should he afterward reflect over his own conduct, he would feel that there lies within him an impulsive power widely different from a search after pleasure or happiness; and this seems to be the deeply planted social instinct...

- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, I, 4

Podcast of the Day

Nigel Warburton interviews Walter Sinnott-Armstrong about moral psychology for this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast. Is recent psychological research relevant to moral philosophy? If so, what exactly can it provide?

Listen to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong on Moral Psychology

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

PAUL BLOOM: What does it take to be a good person? What makes someone a good doctor, therapist or parent? What guides policy-makers to make wise and moral decisions?

Many believe that empathy — the capacity to experience the feelings of others, and particularly others’ suffering — is essential to all of these roles. I argue that this is a mistake, often a tragic one.

Empathy acts like a spotlight, focusing one's attention on a single individual in the here and now. This can have positive effects, but it can also lead to short-sighted and unfair moral actions. And it is subject to bias — both laboratory studies and anecdotal experiences show that empathy flows most for those who look like us, who are attractive and who are non-threatening and familiar...

Continue reading Paul Bloom and Jamil Zaki's article: Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action?

Further Reading

...Moral psychology is a discipline of both intrinsic and practical interest; uncovering the determinants of moral judgment and behavior is fascinating in its own right, and a better understanding of these determinants may help us to better understand what educational and policy interventions may facilitate good conduct and ameliorate bad conduct. Of particular philosophical interest, however, is how inquiry into moral psychology may help adjudicate between competing ethical theories. The plausibility of its associated moral psychology is not, of course, the only dimension on which an ethical theory may be evaluated; equally important are evaluative or normative questions having to do with how well a theory fares when compared to important convictions about such things as justice, fairness, and the good life. Such questions have been, and will continue to be, of central importance for philosophical ethics. Nonetheless, there has been in recent years a growing consensus to the effect that an ethical theory committed to an impoverished or inaccurate conception of moral psychology is at a serious competitive disadvantage. As Bernard Williams (1973, 1985; cf. Flanagan 1991) forcefully argued, an ethical conception that commends relationships, commitments, or life projects that are at odds with the sorts of attachments that can be reasonably be expected to take root in and vivify actual human lives is an ethical conception with—at best—a very tenuous claim to our assent...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches by John Doris and Stephen Stich

Realated Topics

 DesireEmpathyEvolutionary Psychology | FreudGreedGuiltHate | HedonismHuman NaturePain | Plato

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